The best gift a PM could get

The best gift a PM could get
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I’ve been a product manager for almost 15 years, and I’ve been lucky to learn so much over that time through trainings, from customers, on the job, and from my amazing colleagues and mentors. And yet, I’ve always wished I had more of one critical resource to help me grow in my career and add 10x more value.

That resource is time. ⏰ Specifically, the time to think deeply about user problems, develop thoughtful strategies, and grow as a PM.

I’m not alone. A survey of 2500 product managers revealed that one of the worst aspects of the job was working on reactive tasks as opposed to proactive planning -- almost always a symptom of not having enough focused time. The cross-functional nature of the PM role inherently necessitates a lot of context-switching, leaving very little time available to explore product paths, identify non-starters, and refine product strategy.

And the pandemic added a few new wrinkles which made this problem harder. As people went remote across a multitude of time zones and casual catchups shrank, I found I needed more time to bring the team along, deepen relationships, or even find the right time to meet. All this left almost no unbroken time in the workday for personal growth, making me feel less fulfilled in my role.

That changed when I started using Clockwise.

The Clockwise transformation

Clockwise automatically manages your calendar, finding ways to re-arrange your schedule and make more free time both for you and for your teammates. Connecting Clockwise to your calendar allows it to learn your preferences and orchestrate schedules across your team to make everyone more productive.

Clockwise has transformed my productivity in 3 very significant ways:

#1 — Guaranteed stretches of unbroken time

The value of unbroken time is hard to describe, especially to other PM’s, until you’ve experienced a few workweeks with it. Clockwise has two great ways of making this happen:

  1. I’m at my best in the mornings, whether it’s for creative out-of-the-box thinking or analytical deep dives. Clockwise understands this, and uses my preferences to block out at least 15 hours of Focus Time through the week in slots of two hours or longer. The explicit blocks send a signal to my teammates that I’m heads-down. It dissuades others from scheduling over that time unless it’s urgent or important, creating a natural focus on high-value tasks. Best of all, these slots move if something comes up, so I’m guaranteed at least a day during the week of long, interrupted time.
  2. Clockwise also allows me to mark a meeting as flexible, and flexible meetings can move to free up time for me and other attendees. So if I agreed to a meeting twi weeks ago but the time slot is no longer great, or something’s come up in the interim, I can be confident Clockwise will handle moving this meeting to free up more time for me.

These features working in tandem mean that my schedule is always optimized, and I always end up with two hours of unbroken time per day. This unlocks my ability to really focus on a task and iterate rapidly, drastically improving output quality.

Recently, for example, I helped my team analyze some of our engagement data and come up with actionable projects to improve engagement. This required connecting multiple data sources and exploring multiple factors. This could easily have taken two months with a fragmented schedule. However, with Clockwise setting up Focus Time blocks, I was able to complete this analysis in slightly over a week — almost 80% faster! Dedicated time also improved the quality of my analysis — yielding insights that led to actionable short-term roadmap tasks.

#2 — Eliminating scheduling anxiety

Early in my career, there was a running joke (mostly among non-PM’s) that PM’s are glorified note-takers and schedulers. It’s true that PM’s, as execution drivers, tend to schedule the lion’s share of meetings.

Finding time to meet is a valuable task, but it’s also really hard. You have to juggle multiple calendars, preferences, and deadlines and weigh the relative priorities of all attendees’ time. And when you add the impact of multiple time zones, No Meeting Days and busy attendees, scheduling a meeting can feel almost impossible.

The key insight that Clockwise brings to scheduling is that there’s often no known “best” time for any meeting. Even if I played calendar tetris to arrive at a good slot for everyone while scheduling, calendars are really dynamic. A good time today may not be ideal on the day of the meeting.

For any meeting, Clockwise offers great scheduling suggestions that take into account the preferences of all attendees and the state of their calendars at that time. However, by also marking that meeting as flexible, I can ensure Clockwise constantly looks for a better time to carve out the maximum Focus Time for everyone. This means we can collaborate as a team and make timely progress but also feel like each of us has enough Focus Time to do our best work — a win-win.

Image: From my calendar, using Clockwise

This simple insight makes scheduling a breeze for me by removing all the pressure to “get the time right.” Need to meet my VP and don’t know if 10am Monday is a good time? It doesn’t matter, because Clockwise can change the time for us later if it isn’t right.

#3 — Normalizing Focus Time in the culture

A really interesting thing happens when your entire team starts finding unbroken stretches of time in their workday: The culture starts evolving to revere and protect these time blocks. Clockwise synchronizes your calendar with communication tools like Slack, and automatically sets your Slack status when you have unbroken time.

Image courtesy: getclockwise.com

Syncing your status to Slack lets your co-workers know that you’re in your 2+ hour Focus Time stretch, and because they understand the value of unbroken time, you’re much less likely to get interrupted by messages or for something that could wait.

Additionally, when my coworkers use Clockwise’s suggestions to meet with me, they’re already picking time slots that ensure a certain amount of Focus Time stays on my calendar. And making these meetings flexible ensures it’ll always stay that way.

The combination of these three features have ensured that I have not just a quantity of working time, but high-quality working time as well. In the three months since Clockwise started optimizing my schedule, I’ve had much more time to tackle hard, important problems and thereby add 10x more value to my team, the product, and our user base.

So I’m super curious — what would you do with the gift of extra time?

About the author

Krishnan Raghupathi

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